Lady, her Phone and the case of Mass Plagiarism

Lady with a Phone

Was the advent of technology really a boon for humanity? – I look at different aspects of technological advancement and question its existence. Introduction of Lomoprinting and screen printing developed a whole strain of artists that create works of no substance- purely for quantity. When did art without meaning becomes something of value? In this age of daily Instagram uploads, artists and illustrators with a following have become a mere machine drawing constantly with no avail or sense of direction in conceptual composition. Whereas the artists focusing on creating a story and identity through their work are trampled over drawings of kittens- Do we forget that art is a tool for the propagation of a message? Does quantity really reign over quality in work of art these days?

I look back at a painting made in 1882- by the Indian painter S.L. Haldankar-

” He started the Haldankars Fine Art Institute, Bombay. In 1918, with the co-operation of other artist friends, he established the Art Society of India. He remained the President of the Art Society for many. He was commissioned to paint portraits of well know personalities, to mention a few – The late Pandit Madan Malaviya, Jagannath Shankersheth, Sir John Beaumont, Lady and Sir Leslie Wilson and the Raja Saheb of Sawantwadi.” (Indian Arts)

This painting “Glow of Hope” was a cause of much controversy, brought about by, you guessed it- modern media. ” This painting is of Haldankar’s third daughter, Gita Haldankar who turned 90 five years ago. When the painting was being done, Gita had to hold her pose for three or more hours continuously. “ (Kokuyu Camlin) The funny thing is, on Google typing “Lady with the Lamp” brings up the same paintings, with the artist Raja Ravi Verma as the painter. The blasphemy of not crediting the correct artist is far beyond me! The now-deceased artist S.L Haldanker would’ve been furious if Raja Ravi Verma was on Instagram taking credit for a painting he took three years to make. Yet, I ponder: ” From where did Raja Ravi Varma come to the picture all of a sudden?

There could be many reasons for why this painting is attributed to Ravi Varma. Firstly, as mentioned earlier, the realistic style and all the other features of the painting, which closely resembles that of Ravi Varma, could be a reason. ” The woman in the painting was thought to be someone from Kerala and the lamp depicted in the picture is something similar to the ones found in Kerala. When you talk about Kerala and painting, there is only one name that connects the two; Raja Ravi Varma.” (Orange Carton)

Secondly, despite their similar styles- artists always tag their name on paintings, since Raja Ravi Verma wanted to create work for the purpose of mass production, you cannot see his name tagged on his prints. Whereas Haldankar was a Fine Artists- each piece had a sense of uniqueness to it, and the purpose was not for it to be mass-produced for the daily consumption by the public.

The question then arises in my head- In the 21st century do we consider the original pieces of work, with its conceptual background a ‘good piece of art’ or do we need art to be watered down for the consumption of the masses? Isn’t the purpose of art to stir the common notion of the public?

Haldankar chose to focus his work on the grace and natural poised beauty of women, expressed through  “the lavender in her saree that stands for grace and the gold showcases the royal touch…feminity and natural beauty.” (Kokuyu Camlin)  And took a stance of distinction as an artist in his paintings to be original pieces of work- is it not disrespectful of the writers to wrongly annotate his work?- sell as prints under the name of Raja Ravi Verma.

Whilst Raja Ravi Verma, a painter focusing on the representation of women through the “male gaze”; a descendant of the royal sector of Travancore, whose idea of bringing art to a mass-production scale to make it accessible for the commoner; was thoughtful, nonetheless pushed by the privilege of the class system. 

I question whether the art made today- produced in quantities more than one can consume- is that really art? Do we as artists care about another overhyped case of “Campbell’s Soup?”


“Glow of Hope” by S.L Haldanker, 1882 – the rightful artist of the painting